Following the stripped-down rock & roll of Whenever We Wanted, the somber Human Wheels comes as a bit of shock. Throughout his mid-'80s peak, John Mellencamp infused his best work with despair, but he never has sounded as beaten and broken as he does on Human Wheels. It's not just that the record sounds murky and bleak, but his singing is weary and the lyrics are filled with resignation. Consequently, Human Wheels isn't a particularly easy listen, even though it doesn't depart from his signature sound, but it is a rewarding one, and the record is arguably his most affecting.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine